Mission: Create a 20-minute presentation for an upcoming conference…

In my twenty-plus years in sales I’ve sat through countless numbers of presentations, and found the majority to be quite painful — often referring to these as ‘death by PowerPoint’. Many presentations simply involved the presenter throwing up a slide deck that was either indecipherable with charts, graphs, or small font — or was peppered with a bunch of words and bullet points. And in many cases the audience simply followed along as the presenter read through their slides.

I didn’t want to be that guy…

I’ve always thought that I hated PowerPoint, but in thinking back I realized not all presentations have been painful or mind-numbing — in some cases I’ve actually enjoyed the presentation and in a few I’ve even been left feeling inspired. Upon further reflection I realized that it’s not what was used to present that I disliked, but rather how it was presented.

So I started to read — what seemed to be an endless number of — articles on creating powerful presentations. There are many tips and suggestions on how to utilize PowerPoint effectively, and to present to an audience — and even specific guidelines such as the ‘2/4/8 rule’ which recommends using a new slide every 2 minutes, having no more than 4 bullets per slide, and no more than 8 words per bullet. But there were two consistent themes; (1) the importance of storytelling, and (2) the use of imagery.

Why storytelling?

Well, think of any great movie you’ve seen, book you’ve read, or song or talk you’ve listened to — they all involve effective storytelling. It is through story that we perceive and understand our world. It is often said that humans are emotional creatures as well as intellectual ones — and it is the connection to our emotions through storytelling that enables us to absorb information or messaging better — for it grabs our attention, entertains and educates us, and allows us to remember it long after the story is over.

Why imagery?

According to a study from the University of Minnesota and 3M the human brain can process images some 60,000 times faster than text — and the use of visual aids in presentations has proven to positively impact audience perception, attention, comprehension, and retention. The study also found that the use of larger images enables the ability to convey a message more quickly, and without distraction, than smaller images.

Given the importance of storytelling and imagery, and my desire to avoid another presentation faux pas — reading from the PowerPoint — I set out to create a presentation that utilized imagery in it’s entirety. By using nothing but images I was assured that there would be no danger of — either myself or the audience — reading from my PowerPoint.

With the intent to deliver a business update — that was both informative and engaging — my challenge then simply became to find images that conveyed the story I wished to tell. A story about the challenges faced, process undertaken, and results achieved. But by focusing my effort on identifying those that resonated with me the selection process became easier — and I was able curate images that I connected with emotionally, which then enabled me to avoid having to incorporate cues for reference to keep me on track.

Result: A 45-slide PowerPoint Presentation using only images, that took 20 minutes to share — and more importantly an engaged audience.

The next time you have to make a presentation — incorporate imagery.

Tell a story.